The mini donut was born in the forties, when Tom Thumb donut machines cranked out teeny versions of the much-loved breakfast pastries at the rate of three dozen per minute. The machines didn’t catch on for a decade or so, then quickly became popular at state fairs and carnivals, where people loved to watch them at work, churning out donuts that were then doused in cinnamon sugar and served warm as a snack. To this day, people associate mini donuts with summer midways, but they’re surprisingly simple to make at home with simple yeast dough, canola oil, and a shot glass.
If you’re looking for something unique to serve at a party, this is it. One batch of dough will make dozens of mini donuts, which cook quickly in just a couple of inches of canola oil heated in a deep pot. The oil should be hot, but not smoking: test its readiness by dipping a small piece of bread in — it should sizzle around it. Roll out the dough and cut it with the open end of a shot glass — it will make perfectly-sized mini donuts — and poke holes through with a straw or your finger. When cooking them, don’t crowd the pot or you’ll cool down the oil. Cook a few (or several, if your pot is big) at a time and flip as they turn golden, then remove with a slotted spoon onto paper towels to drain, then into a shallow dish of sugar spiked with cinnamon. Serve warm in paper cups or bags, if you get the chance — most likely your guests will hover around the stove and eat them as soon as they’re cool enough to touch.
Homemade Mini Donuts
1 package active dry yeast; instant if you’re in a rush (2 tsp.)
2 Tbsp. warm water
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for sprinkling and rolling out dough (use half whole-wheat if you like)
1 cup milk, at room temperature
2-4 Tbsp. butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
Canola oil, for frying
Cinnamon-sugar, for dipping (spike sugar with as much cinnamon as you like)
In a large bowl, stir together the yeast and water; set it aside for 5 minutes, until it’s foamy. (If it doesn’t foam, throw it out and buy fresh yeast. It won’t foam much, but if it just sits there and does nothing, it’s inactive.) Add the flour, milk, butter, egg, sugar, and salt, and stir until you have a soft, sticky dough. Stir for a minute or two, then cover and set aside for an hour, if you have time and aren’t at a 10th birthday party.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat with floured hands until it’s about 1/2-inch thick. Cut out as many rounds as possible with the rim of a shot glass, and poke a hole in each with your finger, stretching it out a bit as it will puff up as it cooks, closing the hole somewhat. If you like, cover with a kitchen towel and let them rise for another 20-30 minutes (this isn’t necessary, but will produce lighter doughnuts).
Heat about 2″ of oil in a deep, heavy saucepan until it’s hot but not smoking. You’ll know when it’s hot enough by dipping in a piece of bread or a bit of dough — it should start sizzling right away. If the oil is too cool, the doughnuts will take too long to cook and will absorb too much oil, making them heavy.
Cook doughnuts 2 at a time, turning occasionally with tongs or a slotted spoon, until puffed and golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then toss in cinnamon-sugar while still warm.